Thursday, August 18, 2011

Anne McAllister: Samplers–recovering the past

Sorry I’m late!  That seems to be the story of my life this summer.

I can’t, today, even claim that I wasn’t near a computer. I was. But I was so enthralled with what I’ve been doing that I forgot what day it was.

photo (2)It began on Monday when my dear friend Kate Walker told me that while she was out last week at an antiques place near where she lives, she saw a wonderful stitched sampler.  She collects them – and I collect family history. And this sampler was both.

So she asked me if I could find out anything about the family of children whose names and birthdates had been painstakingly embroidered quite beautifully in tiny tiny stiches on this sampler.

There were six children, born between 1809 and 1822, two girls and four boys, and if the initials of the maker were anything to go by, she was Eliza, the youngest girl.

Armed with the names and dates, I went forth using Family Search and Ancestry and Find My Past, all very useful sites for those of us who like dead people, and lo and behold, before long I was pretty sure I’d turned up the oldest son.  And then the older daughter. They’d both  been born in Derbyshire.  Then all four of the younger children turned up in the Hertforshire baptismal records. 
I found the family in censuses and I was able to trace Eliza through her marriage, the births of her children, a move to London and back to Hertforshire again, and finally her death there in 1909.

Everything I found, of course, was the prod to ask more questions. Many of them have not been answered. Most will probably never be answered. 

But between us, Kate and I feel we have rescued and recognized 12 year old Eliza’s efforts (she made the sampler in 1834).  Census records told us she’d become a seamstress and a dressmaker. We’re not surprised. 

Kate has a whole collection of samplers she’s rescued and given a home to where their makers are appreciated and visitors can marvel at the patience and skill of the young girls and women who made them.
As a terrible embroiderer myself, I stand in awe of their talent and their diligence – and I’m grateful that through research I can sometimes do a small part, as in this instance, to bring a light of recognition to their lives.

So that’s why I’m late. 


Kate Walker said...

And I'm thrilled to have so much information on Eliza who did this beautiful embroidery at age 12. Thank you so much for your research- it has made her and her whole family - but especially Eliza come to live so wonderfully

ev said...

Kate- have you ever been able to trace them far enough and return them to their families???

Kaelee said...

I love samplers but I don't collect them. I think it's awesome that you find the families of the people who have made them. That adds a whole new vista to the collection.

Christina Hollis said...

A wonderful post, Anne - history is absorbing at the best of times but when you have an artefact right there in your (or rather, Kate's!) hands, it makes it especially meaningful.

Mary Preston said...

I still have samplers I did as a child. They are beautiful & full of memories.


Michele L. said...

That is so fascinating Anne! I have seen samplers at my local antique store. They sure do have a lot of history behind them. In fact, they can sell for a lot of money!

Anne McAllister said...

Lots of times the samplers are verses and there is little 'family history' connected with them unless you are lucky enough to get a girl who embroidered her name on it. In Eliza's case she embroidered the names of her siblings and their birthdays, so it was easier to track them down (leaving out the fact that they had an almost impossibly common surname!).

I love going to visit Kate because she has many of the samplers she has collected on the walls of their dining room and sitting room. And I will look forward to seeing Eliza's on my next visit.

I'm glad she shared it. Thanks everyone for your comments. Next time you see a sampler, stop and think about the real girl who spent hours making it and wonder who she was and who she grew up to be.

Anne McAllister said...

Oh, and Marybelle, make sure your samplers are going to go to a good home someday -- you don't want them winding up in an antiques fair when family would love to have them!